Funny. I’ve never been able to speak in front of people. In fact, there’s nothing I hate more than being the centre of attention. It’s actually quite weird and makes little sense as I’m neither shy nor feel inferior to others, so how come I fall apart if I need to talk and more than perhaps two pairs of eyes (and ears) are on me? It makes me smile, because the first time I voluntarily opened my mouth in front of a group of people was last night. At nearly 42 years of age something bubbled up in me and I knew, regardless of whether I might choke, I needed to speak up. It makes me smile because it makes perfect sense that it happened in a cosy little room in the arches of a London bridge when I found myself surrounded by a group of incredible women whose love and respect for each other – and now me too! – meant I felt safe.
No matter what, I always sit at the back or to the side, so fearful am I of attracting attention. I prefer to hide and observe from the sidelines. So I don’t know what bloody got into me last night at the women’s meeting. I have no idea who this non-drunk chick is who goes to sit at the front but I kinda like her. Drunky Drunkyson here doesn’t behave like that, so no one was more surprised by Sober Me than.. …me. All scary things I normally hide from when I sit at the back happened at the front. I was handed the Big Book by the lady chairing the meeting and with a warm smile she showed me a short section she asked me to read at the start of the meeting.
Now, I have not been able to do that without fainting since I was about 13 or so. I just can’t. I would seriously rather eat my own vomit than speak in front of people. My palms felt clammy and my heart was racing and I tried to take deep breaths to avoid completely freaking out or allow trembling hands to get the better of me. But I figured, where better face my fear and do it anyway, than in one of these rooms where we all allow ourselves to be honest without reservation and where each and every person wants the best for everyone else. I swear the support people show in these rooms is so palpable you can almost touch it, so I knew no matter how badly I did, I’d only be met with encouragement. It doesn’t get better than that and enveloped in the overwhelming love in the room – oh, I know, I’ve gone all new age lovey spiritual twattiness, but I can’t describe it in any other way – I knew I was surrounded by people who willed me to be my best. And I knew that even if I’d started trembling so much my voice had faltered, these amazing women would have told me ‘well done’ anyway. I knew in my heart that all of us in that room wanted to see everyone do well and succeed. No one would snigger if I messed up.
And I did it. I read it. My voice trembled (I think) but I fucking did it. Every woman in that room last night was victorious in even being there in the first place and it’s my and their sobriety I’m the most proud of, but that was yet another huge victory for me right there. Maybe no one realised how scared I was, or maybe they all did. If they did, I hope they took it to be a compliment that it was around them that this gal managed to stick her chin out for quite possibly the first time in her life. And the words made me chuckle a little to myself. Something about learning to “meet calamity with serenity”.
Oh, and it didn’t stop there, although to be fair what came next I half regret. Then again I remind myself that except for in my own head, it’s probably unlikely that they all stayed behind for a second meeting after I’d left just to laugh about what an idiot I am. They probably just listened to someone who was incredibly nervous. Because I finally felt I had something to share. Thus far I’ve held back, because everyone else is so articulate and sound like they’re delivering a speech they’ve practiced over and over. I spluttered I’d share, that I’m new-ish, that I’m Sophie and I’m an alcoholic. It was on impulse – something went ping! in my head and I felt the urge. “Hi Sophie” came the response in unison and when I dared lift my eyes from the floor for a split second I saw kind eyes and encouraging smiles all around me. Still, my heart had decided to engage in a wild tango come gallop, so when I realised what I’d done – GONE AND ASKED TO BE THE CENTRE OF ATTENTION – I very nearly crumbled.
No, my words didn’t come out calmly and eloquently like the way I perceived everyone else’s words to flow, but they came out damn it! It may have made little sense as I raced through and wanted it to be over and I probably talked for 20 seconds max, but I said it. I shared what I wanted to share in that precise moment. When it was over I was shaking so much I worried I might just vibrate my way right off the chair, but lo and behold, I didn’t. When I stole a glance at the lady I’ve been in touch with the most, she winked at me and smiled. I felt like I’d just scored an A* and I suppose in a way I had.
So I felt the fear but did it anyway. And this morning I once again woke up and felt so utterly grateful I didn’t drink last night so that I get to wake up feeling well, have a clear mind and not a trace of guilt or shame, just joie de vivre and gratitude. And today I’m going to do my best to give myself the same gift. Today I’m not going to have a drink.